Billy Gilley Jr. sat silently in Jackson County Circuit Court Wednesday afternoon as his attorney argued that after two dozen years behind bars, his client — a triple murderer who beat his parents and youngest sister to death with a baseball bat in 1984 — had served his time and deserved his chance before a parole board.
But after listening to two days of dramatic testimony from Gilley's surviving sister, neighbors and psychologists, Judge Ray White ruled Gilley must remain in prison for at least another 36 years.
White reinstated Gilley's original trio of life sentences ordered by Judge Mitchell Karaman in 1984. However, White ordered the sentences for the deaths of Gilley's parents, Billy Frank Gilley Sr. and Linda Gilley, to run concurrently. Gilley's sentence for murdering his 11-year-old sister, Becky, will run consecutively, White said.
Each sentence carries a minimum of 30 years in prison.
"Mr. Gilley's new sentence means he must serve a minimum of 60 years in prison, beginning from the first day he was incarcerated 24 years ago," said District Attorney Mark Huddleston, adding he was "satisfied" with White's ruling.
Before handing down Gilley's sentence, White said he was sorry the 43-year-old had suffered from parental abuse. But Gilley is not a likely candidate for rehabilitation based on a lifelong pattern of bad judgment and illegal acts, he said. Gilley's juvenile crimes included arson, theft and assault, and he has been diagnosed with "a sociopathic personality," White said.
"(Gilley) poses a danger to himself and others," White said, adding Gilley had demonstrated little remorse for his actions, particularly for the killing of Becky.
"It's clear he really didn't like Becky," said White. "He was trying to get rid of a potential witness, and get rid of somebody he and Jody wouldn't have to deal with."
Gilley spent decades winning the right to appeal his sentence. And he will appeal White's decision, said his defense attorney, Paul Beneke. An earlier ruling by White that denied Gilley the right to have his resentencing hearing presented to a jury would be the basis for the appeal, he said.
Earlier in the day, at the end of testimony, Gilley gave a statement to the court absolving his surviving sister, Jody Arlington, of responsibility for the crimes. He said he'd trade his life for that of his family if he could.
"I didn't have the right to take a life," said Gilley.
Gilley spoke softly, breaking into tears on several occasions during his statements which were not made under oath and not subject to cross-examination.
"I don't think there's any justification for what I did. I only pray you understand the explanation, your Honor," Gilley said.
Beneke argued during closing that his client had done everything possible to prove he is remorseful and rehabilitated. He has attended rehabilitation programs, achieved his high school equivalency diploma and attended anger-management classes, he said.
"What else can he do to prove he's rehabilitated?" Beneke asked.
At the time of the crimes, Gilley was a chronically abused teen who had tried to get help by repeatedly calling child protective services, Beneke said.
"He asked the state for help. He did what he was supposed to do. He said he'd rather be in juvenile hall than at home," Beneke said.
Jody Arlington testified Tuesday she was afraid of her brother. But she also said that had social service agencies intervened to protect Billy from their parents' abuse her brother might have been rehabilitated.
The state had failed to protect the Gilley children — particularly Billy, Beneke said.
"In fact, they purged his file," he said.
The bulk of Wednesday morning's testimony was given by two psychologists who spoke about Gilley's mental health and his risk of re-offending if he were to be paroled. Diagnosed with learning disabilities and a borderline personality disorder, Gilley's act of patricide was the result of a lifetime of parental abuse, perceived isolation, and an young brain not yet fully formed, said Dr. Robert Stanulis.
"We're talking about two different people," said Stanulis, referring to Gilley at age 18 when he committed the crimes, and now as a middle-aged man.
"Age counts," Stanulis said.
According to actuarial re-offender risk tables, Gilley's chances of committing violent crime should he be released are .01 percent, Stanulis said.
A family friend, Jacqueline Martinez, herself a victim of child abuse, said Gilley often confided in her about the abuse his father meted out. Her time spent with the Gilley family made her fear for the children, she said.
"I had a gut feeling to go tell someone. I didn't like what I was seeing," Martinez said.
Gilley said his parents had shamed and abused their children consistently. They had also been violent and cruel to each other, he said. But Gilley expressed sorrow for their lives as well.
"I felt sorry for them before I was afraid of them," he said, adding he had killed his mother and father to end the relentless cycles of abuse in which they had trapped their children — "and to free them from each other," Gilley said.
"I know it sounds strange," he added.
Frances Stroup, a friend of Gilley's mother, testified Tuesday that Gilley's surviving sister may have inspired him to murder most of his family. A 1984 tape of Gilley also was played Tuesday in which he said Jody spoke often of "getting rid" of their parents.
The private tape, made at the request of his original defense attorney, Stephen Pickens, was never shown in court prior to Tuesday. In it, Gilley came across as a polite, articulate teen struggling to understand his own actions. Or possibly to shift the blame to his sister.
Jody may have urged him to kill their parents, but as the older sibling, he should have never acted on the suggestion, Gilley said Wednesday.
"In my view she was not responsible. I was the older brother. I was not a good sibling for her and obviously I failed her," said Gilley, speaking about his self-appointed role as the family protector.
Regarding Becky, Gilley said he had a "love/hate" relationship with the little girl. Over the course of the two dozen years since the crimes were committed, Gilley's story about how and why he killed Becky has changed.
"I honestly thought I was just trying to knock her out," said Gilley, sobbing.
Gilley also stated much of the abuse he suffered at the hands of his father, Billy Gilley Sr., was not witnessed by others.
"It was a shameful thing. It was very secretive. It made me ashamed of myself. It made me feel like a piece of garbage, you know?" Gilley said.
Reach reporter Sanne Specht at 776-4497 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.